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Ghosts, ghouls and urban legends

People dressed in costume stand outside a pub during the NYC Zombie Crawl in New York. Picture: Shannon Stapleton

People dressed in costume stand outside a pub during the NYC Zombie Crawl in New York. Picture: Shannon Stapleton

Published Oct 29, 2015


With Halloween around the corner, people across the globe prepare to don scary costumes, and observe strange rituals.

This is the one day when supernatural and scary phenomenon are embraced.

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However, through the ages chilling tales of superstition, myth and urban legend have been told, and not all of them in the spirit of levity and fun that we associate with Halloween.


Highway Sheila

According to urban legend, KwaZulu-Natal’s N2 plays host to a ghost called ‘Highway Sheila’.

The story goes as follows:

Sheila, once a vibrant, young and kind lady, was stranded on the N2 highway in Durban with a flat tyre. She flagged over a vehicle, hoping for assistance yet when a car pulled over, the occupants of the vehicle were intoxicated and had a perverse sense of entertainment.

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According to local lore, the men allegedly raped Sheila, tortured and marked her, and eventually slitting her throat.

Sheila’s spirit allegedly haunts the N2 and the Higginson Highway in Durban. It is reported that people have seen a lady hitchhiking on the highway, seeking a lift and when the lift is given, the lady mysteriously disappears.

In the Chatsworth community in Durban, many people have tales to tell about this ‘ghost’ story, often tales that cannot be verified or confirmed due to a lack of evidence.

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Yet even in 2015, stories still surface of ‘Highway Sheila’, the unsettled spirit or ghost that haunts the N2, with nobody knowing how to put this alleged ghost to rest.

There are still people who will swear that ‘ Highway Sheila’ does actually exist.


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The tale of the poltergeist has been around for centuries.

Many people believe that a poltergeist is the spirit of a person who has suffered a gruesome or untimely death, a spirit that cannot pass on from the realm of the living.

In a book titled 'The Compendium Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon', the concept of a poltergeist is explained. According to the book, a poltergeist is a spirit that has not ‘passed on’ from the realm of the living.

In this compendium, poltergeists seem to occur with varying behaviour. They are allegedly able to manipulate physical matter in the realm of the living, from being a poltergeist that merely arranges spoons and forks correctly in a drawer to the extremity of a poltergeist that could attempt attacking people and violently throwing around objects.

Another book titled ‘The Unexplained’ contains pictures and footage on an accompanying CD that shows a pillow moving, seemingly on its own, to suffocate children in a room; and a child being flung across a room by an unseen force.

Although for some people this seems very far-fetched and ridiculous, many people swear that they have seen or experienced poltergeist activity.


Demonic possession

In some cultures and cults, there is a belief that a demonic spirit can possess a living soul.

It is alleged that a demon or a malevolent spirit can possess a human being in the realm of ‘the living’ for seemingly dark purposes.

There are tales of people who speak in “tongues” when there is an attempt to remove the demon or malevolent spirit from the body of a living being, with the “possessor” being averse to the presence of religious relics or “holy” people.

Hollywood has capitalised on these beliefs with movies like ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’.

The movies dramatically depict centuries of writings by people who claim that they have had contact with “possessed” people.

Many of these stories have no hard evidence to substantiate them, yet throughout history there is a recurrence of similar tales across the globe.


Witches and zombies

In an article in the Cape Argus by Chelsea Geach, Ms Geach speaks of the Occult Crimes Unit. This is a police unit in South Africa that deals with cases of a supernatural nature and delves into the causes, circumstances and aexternal factors surrounding incidents which seem to defy explanation.

Although there are people who practise ‘ Wicca’ and do so without harming or infringing upon anybody else, there are reports from the other end of the spectrum.

There are documented cases of ‘sangomas’ or other tradional healers harvesting organs and committing atrocious acts in the name of their beliefs, and sometimes just for financial gain.

As quoted in the article, “They believe the victim must be alive when the organs are harvested, and they will try to find the youngest most innocent victim possible. The pain and hormones released is what gives the Muti its power.”

It must be noted that not all alleged ‘sangomas’ or ‘witches’ can be labelled as bad or evil. Many traditional healers play a valuable role in their communities.

While many people may scoff at these stories, the truth is that there are people who believe in the power of supernatural entities and believe that these unethical, and sometimes even criminal, practices do have a grain of truth in them.

The Occult Crimes Unit have the job of taking these seemingly ridiculous matters very seriously, investigating reported cases of a ‘supernatural’ nature and investigating the veracity and truth of these cases.

Zombies and witches are real for some people, and there are many tales (some taller than others) circulating about them.

IOL Mojo

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